The Haunting Soul of Nairobi

by Eddy Ashioya

Everything is a mess. And by everything, I mean Nairobi. And by a mess, I still mean Nairobi.

I grew up in the aughts, when E-Sir and K-Rupt were hailing the virtues of Nairobi and PiliPili was spicing the airwaves, when repping your hood was what’s good—”Twende tukawake; huko Nairobi West!” “South C’s finest.” “Na wasee tumetoka Githurai!” Remember those days?

That was the time when being a Nairobian (coming from Nairobi didn’t necessarily equate to being Nairobian) was the stuff. But that kind of saccharine reflection has lost its lustre. Nothing lasts forever, and it’s obvious now – Nairobi is a mess. It’s all over the place in an annoying way, like finding out your plane ticket is scheduled for 12 midnight tonight and not tomorrow night as you had thought.

Recently, a close buddy of mine gave up the Nairobi ghost and moved back to Kakamega, twisting the knife in my back. He got tired. (I’ll tell you how the knife got there. Last year, a colleague had wedged said knife in my back, moving to the Coast and occasionally sending me pictures of himself in a dera—he says it’s a kanzu but it’s his word against mine).

But I get it. I really do. I too have flirted with the idea of moving out, seduced by the lofty hills of Nanyuki, the morning mist of Mt Kenya catching my eye. And it’s not just because of Nairobi’s rent prices, which I’ll have you know is highest in Africa—but this city  is one busy blink-and-you-miss-it construction den. This is the epitome of a city as a construction site. 

The Maasai must be irked, having named Nairobi, ‘Enkare Nairobi’ (meaning a place of cool waters, which Nairobi was apparently known for). Now Nairobi is a different kind of cool— dotted by hotheads and an expansive skyline, its urban planning cracks filled by a deluge of high-rise buildings that epitomise the phrase ‘premium mediocre’. Nairobi is chilling with the big boys.

This is the gift of Nairobi, but also its curse. It’s always undergoing makeup; ring lights, sound, camera action! We’re constantly moving things here, moving things there, changing this, sky-lifting that. Always building something, somewhere, sometime, somehow. It feels like a country within a city.

I wished my friends well as they left what was to me — at one time — the greatest city in the world, simultaneously enamoured and incensed at their decision. Like so much else in modern life, the pathos of that departure was concealed by a seemingly robust exoskeleton of decorum. Nairobi makes you listless — teetering between restlessness and recklessness, more often than not languishing in the valley, waiting for another peak.

When my friends moved out, it made me think of where I stand with regards to my erstwhile beloved Nairobi. What am I still doing here?

Kilimani, Kileleshwa and Lavington are no longer what they used to be. Kilimani, if you squint carefully, is now just Pipeline with a Gucci belt. When you are not grappling with an acute water shortage, with lorries offering ‘Clean Water Services’ raking through the neighbourhoods like hungry ants, it is the fluctuating weather: Nairobi has been getting hotter. And then, we all know it’s going to rain in a few weeks (we hope), and so, flooding.

That’s before we take a ride into the bodaboda world, or as my editor likes to call it, the nduthiverse, not to mention The Expressway, the SGR, the matatus…

But everything has to have that subterfuge. Nairobi’s lingua franca has become this tedious little code, which prevents anyone from ever saying exactly what they mean.

“Naenda hivi nacome.” “Tutafutane.” “Si ni me nakushow.”

This is the strange idiom of the city, like a liturgy with no service. Nairobi is a church without a God. And that’s really the great tragedy of this situation—that as Nairobi has become emptier and soulless, so have the people.

Still, I think Prezzo had it right the first time. This is just how we do it. This is how we get down. I ain’t going nowhere. I am as much a part of the story of Nairobi, as Nairobi is a part of my story. This is My City, My Town.


This week’s musings continues our tradition of inviting members of our community to write From The Curator’s Desk, and for this edition, we were happy to hand it over to Eddy Ashioya, who responded to our invitation with a strong pitch that we are excited to share with you and hope you enjoyed. Eddy is a writer from Kakamega, Kenya; he has an unrequited love for chapati.

We’ll be handing over this section to guest writers from time to time, so please do reach out to us at if you’re interested in writing this section and you have something of interest to share with our community — a trend you’ve noticed or something you’d like us to think about.

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